A forecast calling for blue skies and mild temperatures in Northwest Colorado doesn't bode well for small-stream irrigators and kayakers.
The water stored in the snow in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs is below the 30-year average and lower than last year's figures at this time. Crosho Lake, on the edge of the Flat Tops, is the only snow-measuring site with above-average numbers.
Vance Fulton of the Natural Resource Conservation office in Steamboat said the combined Yampa and White river drainages are at 88 percent of average snowpack. On March 8, 2003, the snowpack was 92 percent of average. The term snowpack refers not to snow depth, but to the amount of water contained in the snow.
"The winter started off really well, but then we hit that cold and dry spell in January and that got us behind," Fulton said.
Fulton said that if the snowpack situation is to turn around, it must happen soon.
"Any snow you do get now, it turns to water pretty fast," Fulton said.
Snowpack can build up on the Continental Divide into April, Fulton said, but lower elevations can begin to lose stored water even as it persists in the high country.
Fulton's office posted its most recent Yampa River Basin Snow Survey on March 1. It tells a tale of variable water conditions.
For example, the snowpack at a measuring site on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass stood at 82 percent of average with 8.4 inches of water in the accumulated snow. Last year on March 1, the same site had 10.3 inches of water.
Not far away, at another site close to U.S. Highway 40, the snowpack is 75 percent of normal. The snow depth there is 51 inches (compared with 74 inches last year), and the water content is 16.5 inches.
Crosho Lake is a bright spot. Although it is at relatively low elevation and doesn't store a great deal of water, the 10.5 inches there is 102 percent of average.
Snowpack on Buffalo Pass measures 30.1 inches of water. That figure represents 80 percent of average and 4 inches less than last year on March 1.
Other snow-measuring sites across the region and their corresponding data include:
n At the U.S. Forest Service boundary sign on the way to Yamcolo Reservoir south of Yampa: water content is 83 percent of average, snow depth is 34 inches compared with 41 inches last year.
n Wyoming state line on Routt County Road 129: water content is 80 percent of average, snow depth is 35 inches compared with 42 inches last year.
n One-half mile south of Columbine on C.R. 129: water content is 75 percent of average, snow depth is 39 inches compared with 49 inches last year.
n Ferndale Picnic Ground on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass: water content is 96 percent of average, snow depth is 41 inches compared with 56 inches last year.